These aren’t necessarily from the archives proper, but the photos are from a little while ago. August of last year found me visiting my Utah kids and then visiting the mountains and canyons south and east of Salt Lake City. You might remember that I lived there for a few years…a few years ago now…and that I spent most weekends hiking in those nearby Wasatch Mountains.
Of the many hikes that I took while living in Utah, I never went to the lakes that I am presenting in this post. They are situated in the conjoined space at the far eastern end of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. In fact, one can walk up to the lakes from the Big Cottonwood side, at the Brighton ski resort, and continue on the trail back down to the Alta ski resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon, or vice versa.
I didn’t visit the lakes for the precise reason that I described above…their proximity to potentially great quantities of people. To give a small example of how many people one might encounter there, let me say that there were five vehicles, including mine, when I arrived in the parking lot at 5:55 am, and over 50 when I returned to my truck at 10:30 am…and that was on a Monday morning in the middle of summer. When I lived there, I hiked on weekend mornings…so I avoided the place…in hopes of avoiding the above mentioned “great quantities of people.”
I didn’t study a map of the mountains before leaving for the hike, so I was a little surprised that I would encounter Dog Lake on the near approach to Lake Mary. The little body of water in the second photo is Dog Lake. There is another Dog Lake in Millcreek Canyon, just north of Big Cottonwood Canyon…and back when I used to study my mountain map of the area, I knew of both of these Dog Lakes…but had forgotten about this one. You might remember a black and white rendition of the above photo….
The photo below is from the close approach to Lake Mary…just a little ways further into the mountains from Dog Lake. As you can see the concrete wall in this image, you can tell that this is actually a reservoir, not a true lake.
Not that it matters much, what we call it…especially when we get up to the mountain-reflecting body of water and look out over it….
I had a sense of being home again when I was out on the trail heading up to the lakes…off in the mountains…very few people around…the smells of mountain earth, forest, flowers, grasses, and maybe even the water…all of it flooding my head…rejuvenating the muscle-memories and the actual physical sense of “being” in those surroundings.
I would have to confess then, too, that my body also knew it was only visiting, that it had been existing in the desert at maybe 1,200 feet in elevation…and that it was now hiking from over 8,700 feet up to 9,200 feet…and I felt that difference in my lack of wind and the need to “pull over” every now and then to catch my breath…heart pounding as it was rejoicing….
You can see the top of the reservoir wall in the below image.
There were three or four people sitting around Lake Mary and their voices carried loudly over the water and in the thinner air, so I made my few photographs and then headed back up the trail…up a little further to Lake Martha.
The bluebells were in a huge clump, almost like a grove, actually, if that’s possible…a rather large swath of near boggy forest floor that was covered in great, dark green leaves of some familiar plant whose name I didn’t know…with pink sparks of Indian paintbrush…and then almost purple gray smudges of what became bluebells as I got closer.
Life in passing…in waiting…in anticipation….
Between Lakes Martha and Catherine, there is a something like a minor cirque on the south side of the trail…it rather resembled an amphitheater…an almost bowl-like depression in the ground like some huge something had reached down and scooped out a chunk of earth and then littered the ground with grass and wildflowers and pine cones and rock litter from the hills above….
I sat in the grass and flowers for several minutes with my elbows propped on my knees, making photo after photo of the flowers…with my head and heart lost in the present and the past and wanting to stay there…right there…for fucking ever.
The bowl of Lake Catherine from the left…
…and the right….
This little guy has a bite of my chocolate brownie Cliff’s bar in his hands….
Now heading away from the lake…
Encountering another little squirrel-person eating what he’s supposed to eat…and appearing more fit and trim for doing so….
Lake Mary from above….
Yes…my favorite flower, ever…the Colorado Columbine in its various opening stages.
Below…red, white, and blue Wasatch Mountain wildflowers.
And the trail back down from Lake Mary with its patch of near hedge-like accompaniment of yellow flowers…and the forest beyond….
Thank you for enduring the longer post…for going home again with me to my beloved Wasatch Mountains…even if it was only for a few minutes. If you enjoyed the hike even half as much as I did, I know you absolutely loved it.
One might suggest that we “stole away,” my son and I, when his wife (whom I refer to as my daughter, as she is so precious), took their girls to a Halloween party in the neighborhood. We went on another excursion to a favored place of ours, Antelope Island State Park, just north and west of Salt Lake City, in the southeast portion of The Great Salt Lake. On our four trips out to the island, we have seen some familiar sights, but like on each of the other ventures, we managed to see parts of it that were new to us, as well. On this occasion, we headed-out to Lady Finger Point…and then beyond, to Egg Island, a portion of our day’s wanderings that I will cover in another post.
Maybe I should have used the above image in my recent post, Antelope Island Reflectioning, but it was rather removed from that locale, so it seems to fit better with this one.
With the wide-open spaces and the distant horizon, it’s difficult to ascertain distance and size…
…so it was rather fortuitous when a couple of fellow-wanderers happened into my gaze, in the above photo, when we were checking-out the area from the elevated trail.
This last photo shows the bit of revealed lake bottom that leads out to Egg Island…that perch of elevated ground immediately in front of us out there. I was struck by the lines of residue that the receding water left behind over the past months (?)…captivating and leading our line of sight to the west and beyond to what was formerly unknown to us, except in name only…Egg Island.
If you’re interested in viewing other posts from our wanderings on Antelope Island, you can scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the titled link under the Categories widget.
The camera-phone six hundred and some miles away clicked in my daughter’s hand…fingers poked a message into the screen, and the image was transported across digital waves of something/nothingness and caused a small vibration from my phone…and I found it, many hours later, a tiny treasure…full of meaning and memories…of little ones cuddling on my lap, whispered words of “Papa’s mountains,” and the feel of a trail underfoot…images cascading in flashes of recall…sounds of water crashing or quietly rolling down the canyon…a scent of warm summer pine and wildflower…or the comforting wood-smoke on an icy morning while snow crunched underfoot….
I have crossed that bridge dozens of times…under the thick canopy of spring and summer fullness in the trees above, while the heady aroma of the mountains blew light or strong down the canyon….or atop a foot or more of snow piled high and reassuring, while I stood or knelt and made images of Christmas-tree-like reflections in the ice and snow rimmed stream…and then gone home to little one’s arms around my neck…”Did you have a nice hike, Papa…?”
*Iphound treasure courtesy of K. Brill, 8/31/16, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Salt Lake City, Utah.
It was probably a Sunday, because it usually was…September 23 of two years ago…hiking in the mountains of Little Cottonwood Canyon, just south and east of Salt Lake City, Utah…the Wasatch Mountains in Fall. I would say that it feels like a lifetime ago…with so many changes since then, but it was in my life…then…consistently, richly…and now it is in memories only.
When did the clock find the wind…to sprint like this?
And how could we not see its fleeing?
There were baby hugs
And finger paints
Sand in her tennies
And potted beans on the windowsill
Pound-puppies and princess’s ponies
And bubble gum and pig-tails
Now she wants to drive
And her iPod is in her backpack
With her cell phone at her ear
Long curly hair ironed flat in the mirror
And she’s ready for the prom
When did the clock find the wind…to sprint like this?
When we were young, we noticed that it took forever for special days to get here; whether they were birthdays, Christmases, the last days of school, etc…they took an eternity, as marked by our child’s minds that registered time’s passing by those ultra-special days coming and going.
Now that the years have gathered, so many more things mark time…payday Fridays, her birthday, your birthday, her mom’s birthday, vacation, the first day of school, early-release every third Thursday, progress reports, report cards, the annual re-bid at work, a trainee for five weeks, the boss is gone for two, the weekend stand-by form on every Thursday, monitor each employee every month, we just checked your messages, it’s Thanksgiving and now it’s New Years and another move or not, and Christmas or winter break is passed and past, and one more semester until it’s done, and this process takes four weeks and that one takes seven, and the puppy needs his next set of shots and three more months until that movie comes out, another week to read the book, pay this bill on the 15th and that one on the first, and pay it again on the 15th, and the other one again on the first, and next month there are three paychecks for you and for me, so we look forward to yours and to mine and we pay extra on this one and it’s time to trim the bushes again, and the bug-guy is here again, and it’s time to change your oil and rotate the tires again, and it’s her birthday again then mine and her mom’s and my mom’s and school’s out again for the year and then she’s 21 weeks along and they can do the ultra-sound and see if it’s a boy or a girl, and which type of paint and trim do we get and we’ll know pretty soon…it does seem to rush by, unbidden, just passing with speed beyond belief, sometimes like tempests and torn in the way, and images of youth and what used to be has gone in the swirling of leaves and thought and remembrance, our encumbered spirits and minds loose (not lose) those things of yesterday and try to gather them back again before they are ungraspable in their passing, gone in that spirit of has-been and collected somewhere up in the ether where lost thoughts and radio waves linger unhitched for evermore.
We used to think that our grandparents and parents were old or getting that way and now we find ourselves noticing the little lines by our eyes…and the ones that run down into our cheeks or spread like the sun’s rays from the corners of our mouths…we find that the singular gray hairs have multiplied into a profusion that creeps into our vision until it’s time to dye them again…or not…and the moustache had a couple and the chin several more and it’s no longer possible to trim that one or pluck it away as before…they aren’t going away…our memories hold when our bodies won’t…and our children are getting older…the lines on the door frame that used to be fun to mark once or twice a year are slowly catching-up with our chin and eye-level reaches…and we wonder where it’s gone…we wonder how it not only learned to sprint and spring away but to indeed flee and leave us watching…making yet more notes of its passing…she was only 11 months-old when we saw her the first time and she just turned 13 years-old…another was captured in a picture at almost three years-old with her arm in a cast and now she’s 26 years-old…and the first-born is crowing at 28 years…and those in between with babies and lives and house-payments and then….
And my friend, Byron, whose gentle soul found the words that title this writing, noticed in awe the beauty and unbelievable 16 years of his daughter as he took her to school one day last week…it struck him how she’s not that little girl anymore who used to crawl into his lap with a favorite book or doll and sit there playing with his chin…time has fled with that little one and brought a beautiful young lady to take her place…unbeknownst to anyone watching…suddenly she is here…and we wonder again…where did the clock find the wind to sprint like this?
Thank you, Byron.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from December, 2009….it was brought to mind again after seeing my friend Byron for the first time in nearly four years…and he told me that his daughter is now married and recently graduated from college.
it was the first in another stage of what has already been many trips down the road to and from an old place to a new one and back again and now the old is new and the new is old and desire is pulled in its different directions while the things that are passing are indeed passing and mostly without notice because they are not seen in their many familiarities, the eyes are on the road and the surrounding mountains and clouds in order to make it from one point to another and all the things in between are scant registers on a mental screen that has been focused toward what is within and not without…
the shadowed and purpled mountains didn’t register inside the lens as they did in my mind and it was only with disappointment that I stared at the screen with its muted hues and wondered at beauty and desire and hope, I had looked closer in another direction, through the side window, actually, beyond the bug-splatter on the forward windscreen and the highway railing and yellow lines and fractured glass and butts along the shoulder and it didn’t just come to me then, I had to seek it out, intentionally
“As I put her to sleep, holding the bottle to her small mouth, I listen to her breathe. I feel her little movements as she struggles against the sleepiness that always wins in the end. I hear her drinking from her bottle, first quickly as she is so excited to get her evening nourishment, but then slower and slower as the heavy weight of slumber pulls her little eyes closed in longer and longer blinks.
But tonight something different happens. Tonight, as she drifts closer and closer to sleep, she reaches up with her hand, as she does often while drifting off. But this time she rests her trusting hand on mine as I hold her bottle. Not a brush, not a slip, not an accident. Her hand rests on mine with purpose, with intent. This is where she wants her hand, what she wants to hold.
Can’t this bottle be just a bit bigger?
Can’t there be more left in it for her to drink?
Can’t she stay here a little longer with her hand on mine?
That’s all I want, just let this moment last a little longer.
Her bottle empties and I replace it with her binky. Her hand moves as I shift her body, cradle her, and rock her the rest of the way to sleep. With her bottle empty, she surrenders herself to the sandman. Her eyes close, her breathing slows, her body stills. Her hand is no longer on mine as it was. Such a small gesture and yet she has no idea. She knows not what this means to her Daddy, what joy it brings to my heart.
She wakes up and begins her day, chattering on about breakfast, about her Mommy, about her games and shows. She is happy, as she is most days. There are no owies or runny noses or naps. She moves through her world freely and with more and more independence. ‘I can brush my own teeth, I can put my plate in the sink, I can get dressed, I can, I can, I can.’ The day nears its end, as all days do, with bedtime stories and ni-nights and kisses and hugs.
But this day is different. This is the last of this era. This is the end of this stage. Tomorrow she goes to school. Tomorrow she meets new people, learns new things, begins new routines, needs help from someone else. This bedtime I know all about her day, what she did, what she saw, what she said. When she lies down to bed tomorrow her stories will be new.
Can’t this day be just a bit longer?
Can’t there be more words in this story?
Can’t she stay here a little longer with her world in mine?
That’s all I want, just let this moment last a little longer.
The story ends, she gives and gets her hugs and kisses. She rolls over and lets me believe that she will be going right to sleep, but knowing she will be up imagining what tomorrow will be like. Excited and anxious and scared. Her days are no longer only mine as they were. So precious these moments but she doesn’t know. She knows not what this means to her Daddy, what joy it brings to my heart.
Busy as always, so much less time to spend in the house these days for a young adult. She learns more every day than I have in years. The world is still opening up to her as she stretches her legs into the adult world, learns to live, to work, to be responsible. I get to see where my efforts have paid off. I get to see where she could have been guided better. But that’s only when I get to see her. New friends with new faces and new stories and experiences and places and people. It seems that most of the time there is considerable effort to keep up and by the time I do, the whole story is new and different and I’m not caught up anymore.
But in this rare moment, something is different. She sits beside me as the evening winds to a close to share her day. She isn’t busy with friends or work or school, she is busy spending time with me. She wants to be with me, she wants me to hear her, she wants to hear me. I listen as she unfolds her busy day before me and allows me to participate, because today I am part of her busy day.
Can’t this conversation be just a bit longer?
Can’t I say more to keep her from going to bed?
Can’t she stay here a little longer with her story in mine?
That’s all I want, just let this moment last a little longer.
She begins to yawn, her eyes grow redder as her body tells her it’s time for sleep. I tell her goodnight and watch as she leaves to her room. She carries on to bed thinking nothing different of the day. Another day closer to where she’s going. Another day further from where she started. Something as simple as time spent with someone, but she doesn’t get it. She knows not what this means to her Daddy, what joy it brings to my heart.
She walks to the door as she prepares to leave. She is always going places, new places, old places. Places I’ve been to, places I haven’t. Some places maybe she’ll take me to, places maybe that I really want to see. We gather around the door, talking about when she’s coming back, who she’s going to be with, what she’s going to be doing.
But this time it’s different. She’s not coming back, unless it’s to visit. She’s going to be with people I don’t know, people I won’t know. She’s going to be doing things that I won’t have any involvement in, or even know about in some cases. Today she’s going to her house. That used to mean the same thing as when I was going to my house, but not now, not this time. She is going to her own house. She is leaving my house and going home.
Can’t we stand here at the door just a bit more?
Can’t I find something else to load into your car?
Can’t she stay a little longer with her home in mine?
That’s all I want, just let this moment last a little longer.
She walks out the door and gets in her car. I get one last wave and she blows me a kiss as she drives to her new house, her new home. I watch as the car winds down the street into the distance. Even after the car is long out of site, I continue to watch down the street as if I can watch her make it home safely, as if I can see right to her door from mine as I always have. She grew up here with me, I watched her grow, but it’s not something she is able to appreciate yet. She knows not what this means to her Daddy, what joy it brought to my heart.
I walk with her as I have so many evenings, arm in arm. There is a cool breeze that blows through the trees and causes our hair to stir. We always just walk, nowhere in particular. To the end of the street, up the road, around the block. It never really matters, we always know where we are going back to. It is wonderful when she comes to visit and spend time, talks about her life, her job, her friends. Sometimes we can walk together without saying a word at all.
But it is again different this time. This time we walk with a destination. It is not a far walk, but it is the furthest walk I have ever taken. My destination is near the end of the aisle, at which point I take my seat and let her walk the rest of the aisle to another arm to place hers in. It is not as if I won’t have another walk with her, arm in arm. Our next walks will be different, about a new chapter.
Can’t the aisle be just a bit longer?
Can’t we slow the pace of the walk?
Can’t she stay a little longer with her arm in mine?
That’s all I want, just let this moment last a little longer.
I give her away, just as she asked me to. Tears in my eyes, I smile at her. I sit down and watch her speak words of love to her best friend. She stands there looking as beautiful as the day she was first mine. We still take walks, arm in arm, and still talk about life. We even talk about the very walk that began her newest chapter and my role in that walk, but I can’t expect her to understand what it means to me. She knows not what this means to her Daddy, what joy it brings to my heart.
Visits at her house are always wonderful, visits with her at any place are wonderful. She has grown into an amazing woman. I get to see her world as she decorated it around her. There aren’t words for my pride when she introduces me to her friends. To be important enough that someone she knows will, should, gets to meet me. To be this far down the road and still hold the honor of being an important figure in her life feels like a rarity.
But this visit will be different. I am not meeting her friend or neighbor or coworker. I am meeting her daughter. I am holding her daughter. I am rocking her daughter. She watches me as I stare into her face through another. The flood of memories, of emotions, of beauty overwhelms me.
Couldn’t she have been this small a bit longer?
Couldn’t I go back to do this all again?
Couldn’t she stay a little longer as my baby?
That’s all I want, just let those moments last a little longer.
She takes her baby daughter from me and I get the joy of watching her stare into the eyes of her precious daughter as I once did. The most beautiful transformation takes place right before me as I look at her and realize that now, after all this time, she understands, and will forever. She knows what this means to her Daddy, what joy it brings to my heart.
As I see her approach me, I reflect on all the times I have truly watched her as she experienced life. As she lives life. I watched as she placed her small hand on mine in a trusting hold, as she moved from my world into hers, as she kept me in her story, as she stepped out of my home and into one of her own, as she held her arm in mine for the longest walk, as she transitioned from a woman into a Mommy. She sits beside me and smiles at me as I always loved her to do.
But this time is, different. I am watching her approach me for the last time. I am watching her for the last time. As she sits in the chair beside my bed, she places her hand on mine. As I drift off, I feel her hand as she softly weeps. Her hand is on mine with purpose, with intent. This is where she wants her hand. What she wants to hold.
Can’t this life be just a bit longer?
Can’t I have her by my side tomorrow?
Can’t I have tomorrow?
Can’t she stay here a little longer with her hand on mine?
That’s all I want, just let this moment last a little longer.”
© 2013 – Caleb Michael Brill
“Between the wish and the thing, the world lies waiting.”
– Cormac McCarthy
I wanted you to know that I love you.
I wanted you to know that I still love you.
I wanted you to know that, even with everything that has happened between us, and even not between us, but between those others who we loved or love, that I still love you.
I wanted you to know that there is a piece of my life that is missing because you aren’t a part of it like you used to be.
I wanted you to know that even when my words have been infrequent or nonexistent, my heart still speaks; it still loves you and misses you.
I wanted you to know that even when you’re gone, I will still love you.
I wanted you to know that I will still love you when I’m gone, whenever and however that might happen, or whatever that might mean.
I wanted you to know that even though you’re gone, I still love you.
I wanted you to know that I haven’t taken you for granted.
I wanted you to know that I haven’t been uninterested in you and your life just because I haven’t asked you questions about you and your life…I was giving you space.
I wanted you to know that the others still ask about you, still think about you, still wonder about you.
I wanted you to know that it’s not too late.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry that I wasn’t what you needed me to be when you needed me to be different than I was.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry I didn’t grow or change fast enough to make the difference that you needed me to make.
I wanted you to know that I was there when you thought I wasn’t, but I didn’t know how to make myself more known to you.
I wanted you to know that my anger was really sadness…or shame, but I didn’t know how to express it as such.
I wanted you to know that when I seemed to be distant and unconcerned, I was really hiding inside myself because I was hurting, too.
I wanted you to know that I never meant to hurt you…even though it appears that I didn’t try hard enough in meaning to not hurt you.
I wanted you to know that there were times that I was selfish and wasn’t thinking about you and others, and I’m sorry for being that way.
I wanted you to know that I know the past cannot be undone and that some things cannot be fixed.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry that I hurt you when I did what I did.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry that I hurt you when I said what I said and wrote what I wrote.
I wanted you to know that I will understand if you can’t forgive me, if you don’t forgive me, if you won’t forgive me.
I wanted you to know that I still love you.
I wanted you to know that what you did to the others hurts me, too, and I don’t know what to do about it.
I wanted you to know that regardless of the decisions you made yesterday, or last week, or last month, or last year, I still love you.
I wanted you to know that regardless of the decisions you make right now, or tomorrow, I will still love you.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry I didn’t protect you when I should have.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry I didn’t speak-up for you when I should have.
I wanted you to know that I don’t expect you to be like everyone else; I love you for who you are.
I wanted you to know that I don’t like the distance that exists between us, the obstacles of time and place and not-talking and isolation that have grown like fences and rivers and mountains and dotted lines on maps…like boundaries that split and divide us.
I wanted you to know that I love you, still.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from May, 2010.
Reading Steinbeck makes me long for the days when I worked with the health department, makes me long for the time when I used to be out and among the people, touching their lives, sometimes touching their hands or bodies in ways that let me know that they and I were alive in a human sense that also touched me in my deepest heart.
As I write this, tears are coming to my eyes and my throat is getting tight at remembering that life, that previous life when my days were filled with more than the talk of a police radio and the answering of 9-1-1 phone calls, when I could drive about the city where I lived, my city and county where the people were mine and I was theirs and charged with doing something for them. I could see and feel them, could smell their smells and walk in the dust of their roads and unkempt back and front yards.
I long for the smell of a hot palm tree as it is baking in the August sun with the pigeons and other birds shitting down on those people and me and my car, where I could walk among the duck shit at Encanto Park when I was taking a break from my many field visits and rest in the shade or watch the white middle-class moms taking their three and four year-olds decked-out in Oshkosh-by-gosh jumpers and short-sets to play in the sand entrenched playground while watching the transients wander between the bathrooms and pay phones, watching who might be watching them and not.
I would sit in my car and watch the people who came to the park on their lunch breaks, wondering at who they were speaking to on their cell-phones, or wonder at what they were reading or writing as they sat at the picnic tables and looked up every now and then as the swarm of pigeons took wing and brought up the dust and dirt from their wings and the ground in their leaving.
I long for the days when I would walk down 12th Avenue and Buckeye and feel the stares on me as the locals wondered what they hell I was doing in their neighborhood. Some would recognize my white car and white self parked along the curb and come out to talk with me, while many others stood inside at their windows waiting for me to leave.
I can see the area still as it used to exist, with Dixon’s Club on the south east corner of 13th Avenue and Buckeye, old gray and purplish stuccoed building with the one scraggly Palo-Verde tree there on the corner with the dirt parking lot and old wooden door jamb that had seen many fights and raids and strange white cops darken its doorway, and then across the street on Buckeye proper at 12-something west, the Social Club and its parking lot on the east side of the building where I got some blood on my hand after drawing someone at the trunk of my car, with my little black fanny-pack of a blood kit, elastic band to tie off their arm, the tubes and needles and alcohol wipes for cleaning the puncture spot…the wipes that came away filthy brown most times and lightened that tiny patch of skin where I would insert the needle to take some of their precious blood to see if it was tainted with the curse of syphilis.
I would then drive the sample back to the clinic and deliver it to the lab and watch patiently as the techs spun it down and then took a drop of the serum and mixed it with the reagent that would quickly, slowly, or not at all react with its charcoal grains that meant those people or persons had been touched with that curse, that same curse that made me scream in my soul at receiving the blood test results of the newborn that was four times higher than its mom’s blood results taken at the same time.
Reading Steinbeck causes me to see the little insignificant things in life and marvel at their simple-ness and integral-ness to what we call life. He draws a big picture but fleshes it out with the details that I seem to be away from now that I’m in an office or call-center all day. I hear the distress of people on the phones or the excited-ness of the officers as they’re chasing someone and the usually calm voice of the sergeant saying that we are not in pursuit and watch the new dispatcher get amped-up and tense in her typing as she’s trying to get it all down in the officers’ radio traffic….
I see the same two hundred people every day or week and they all look the same in their uniforms and combed hair and large and cumbersome work bags and headsets and their lunches and breakfasts and coffee for their two best friends and supervisor who used to be only their friend but is now their friend’s supervisor, and the radio consoles and phones and computers for call-taking and dispatching and the tables that move up and down and the many chairs that must be arranged so just so in the corners to hold their extra bags and the ones that nobody wants to sit in because they stink or have strange stains where the person’s crotch would be sitting or the one wheel doesn’t turn or it’s wide enough to be a loveseat and some of them bring all kinds of shit from home with them that their desks look like their office at home with pictures of kids and husband and dog and their personal box of Kleenex and Lysol wipes and their three pens and packages of gum and this book and that and the notepad….
My car used to be my office, too, as I drove around from one side of the county to the next, taking my little binder with green cards that represented infections or contacts to infections and carried my notes of efforts to contact and find them on the back, and my pens and pencils in the cup holder and the extra napkins from McDonalds and Jack-in-the-Box and Filiberto’s and Armando’s and Adelberto’s and Los Betos from my own various lunches and breakfasts amid the wandering of my city and then.
I now drive only two or three roads to get to work and back and the commute is a sterile representation of only getting from one place to another, not the driving about and looking for people and noticing the shrimp shack or burger shack where they served pancakes or menudo on the weekends or used a small pickup truck to block the entrance to the car stereo shop when it was closed for business….
Sometimes I’d drive to El Mirage or Surprise and wonder at the surprise of being there, or wonder at what was seen in that first mirage seen out there so long ago before it had a sign naming the year of its incorporation and how many people lived there at the last count…and its cotton fields along which I would stop and pick a couple tufts of the white stuff and wonder at the years of oppression of people who were dragged from African shores to pick the stuff….
I would stand there for several minutes and wonder at the dirt and the irrigation channels and see and hear the aircraft from Luke AFB nearby and be thrown further away and into my childhood where these sights and sounds were a comfort and a normalcy of everyday stuff and business, and then get back into my car and drive past the fields of roses and other flowering bushes and shrubs and be amazed at how fields and fields of the things could be grown here in our hot scorching desert and then cut and shipped to other parts of the country or world to adorn people’s dining room tables….
Then I would drive past fields of onions being picked by hunched over brown skinned people and there would be a smell of sour-cream-and-onion potato chips in the air and I would drive to the far western side of Maricopa county in the truly bum-fuck-Egypt part of our world and find myself surrounded by the huge and monstrous and beautiful female cottonwood trees in full bloom with their white cottony shit flying thick and cloudlike in the afternoon breezes among the trailers and mobile homes parked and anchored in their allotted spaces with the Big-Wheel trikes and Tonka trucks tucked under and beside the wheeled homes that did or didn’t have the nice grating or plastic wall skirts all around their homes….
And the people were gentle and welcoming or suspicious as to why I would be all the way out there in their neck of the woods with my health department identification looking for their daughter or son or whomever and is the water not ok to drink out here or what?
When I read Steinbeck I wonder how I could abandon those field and dairy workers and their little families of infected people and cousins, leaving them to other devices and treatments when I used to be able to tell them to go to the clinic and don’t have sex until you do and the smell of chicken and cow shit is strong on the hot breeze as I stand there in the scorching sun with sweat running down my cheeks as I also smell their beans and ham hocks and rice cooking on the stove, emitting their own clouds of steam or the chilies roasting on the fifty-five gallon drums with the smoke penetrating the neighborhood and my clothes so that I still smell them when I’m driving home to my house in Glendale or Peoria and find some of those same chilies at the ABCO market or Food City…and I could look in their dark eyes and see the hope and trust or wonder or doubt as my white self told them what they needed to do to take care of themselves as their little Juanito ran around in his diaper and nothing else eating a peach with stickiness on his face and hands and arms and belly as he chased their dogs from the trailer to the shed and back….
Now it perturbs me when someone steals my favorite spoon out of my desk drawer at work and I feel the need to send scathing emails to my coworkers accusing them of thievery or asking who dropped the coffee bomb on my desk and among my pictures and I used to not care about such things as I drove my client to Jack-in-the-Box on the way to the clinic so I could buy her two Jumbo Jacks and a large curly-fries and a large Coke because she only had a package of dry Ramen noodles yesterday….
I had found her at her shit-hole trailer at Sixth Avenue and Jones that day and looked into her home and saw daylight shining up through the plywood covered floor and the kids were missing some of their front teeth as they eyed me suspiciously and asked me in their maturity what I wanted with their mom….
The older one noticed that the last name on my ID tag was the same as his and asked if I knew his family…and his name was also Josh, like my 12yo son and he was going to be 12 in November, too…and he was cute and had the same gentleness in his eyes as my Josh did/does…and I wondered at how life could be so unfair and so fucked-up for this little Joshua when things seemed and were so nice for my little Joshua….
I could smell his house and home and filth and dreams for the rest of the day, even after I blew my nose several times, chewed sharp and tingly gum and had enchiladas and salsa for lunch…I could still smell those things of that other Joshua’s house as I drove home to mine those several hours later after taking his HIV positive mom to my clinic so we could also treat her gonorrhea and chlamydia and try to convince her to stop sleeping with her boyfriend who was already dying from AIDS….
But she wouldn’t and didn’t and we came to see her on the foster care review board and later saw that she died and was no more and that her other children went the way of the wind and some and now I’m concerned with ferreting out the problem with the radio and is it the jack or the bottom part of the dispatcher’s headset that suddenly crashed and made the sergeant call me to say that we lost our dispatcher so we’re going car to car, thought you’d like to know….
I know there are Steinbeck stories in the radio room and among the 9-1-1 operators…and their hair is so shiny and their perfume or lotion smells so sweet and their cars are so pretty in the parking lot and the digital picture frames of their children and vacations are so expensive and their cruises are so interesting and so far removed from the shit side of life…and they do have their trials and difficulties and their parents die violent deaths in car accidents and murder-suicides and their lives do suck sometimes too….
But somehow there is no parallel between this and sitting in the small interview room of the clinic or sitting in the dirt under one of the ancient eucalyptus trees in an alley on the south side of town while a hugely fat, dark purple-black man who just told me about the hood rat who sucked his dick and gave him syphilis changes the subject so quickly and asks me if I know Jesus….
I love reading Steinbeck.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from November, 2009.
Baby Cosette joined us in time to be an early Christmas present for her Papa….
We were sitting on the couch, my little one and I, with his mom on the love-seat across from us, watching a movie. We had a bowl of popcorn between us, and as my little one reclined into one of the pillows, he took handfuls of the popcorn and not so delicately or accurately plied the fluffy stuff into his mouth. When the majority of the bowl was gone, he started playing with the pieces of popcorn, alternately flicking them into his mouth or smashing them in his palm and then licking-up the pieces like a dog. We paused the movie occasionally to ask or answer a question, to run to the bathroom, get a refill of one of our drinks or the other…and then continued watching and eating and enjoying the movie and each other’s company. The further into the bowl we got, the more broken pieces of popcorn there were on the little one’s blanket, pillow, pajamas, and surrounding couch area.
I reached over to pick-up some of the crumbs and broken pieces to put them back in the bowl…and made a mistake….
“Do you think you’re making a big enough mess, you little slob?”
Did you just…call me a slob?
My little one asked this with a quivering chin and downcast eyes as he picked a piece of popcorn off of the blanket beneath his chin and placed it anxiously into his mouth.
“Well yeah, look at the mess…hey….”
There were big alligator tears and an immediately running nose and the sobbing of words and half words that I couldn’t understand between his crying and the movie and his mom and my questioning and….
“Hey there…I was just playing….”
Why…did you…call…me that? What was…why are you….
And more tears…and my heart was breaking at his breaking heart and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and oh….
“Hey, Buddy, look at me,” as I patted his foot, “I was only playing…you’re making such a mess here…hey…look…I was only playing.” I reached over and dragged him to me…. “Hey…I call your mom a slob too, sometimes…when she makes a mess…I wasn’t trying to be mean….”
And his chest was shaking and he was wiping tears across his face and his mom brought over a Kleenex to blow his nose…and I was holding back a smile in my amazement and tears in my sadness at how I had just crushed his little heart…his daddy calling him a slob.
“Hey there…why are you crying? I was only playing….”
I…don’t like…being…called names.
“I’m sorry…I’m so sorry, Buddy. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings or upset you…I was just playing with you.”
I accept your…apology. Sniff….
An important aspect of my little one’s life and existence, at this point in his eight years (now eleven), and possibly for many more years as he learns to decipher and remember the various meanings of our vast array of socially constructed and freighted expressions and intentions and nuanced meanings, is his acceptance of things as they are presented to him. He doesn’t see the gray or shading in many of our words and intentions. The idiosyncrasies of our speech and the subtle and not-so-subtle meanings of our paired words sometimes escape him, even when we’re joking around…they mean, to him, what they literally mean. In my playing, I forgot about the concreteness of his brilliant little mind…and the tenderness of his easily broken heart.
Oh…how it hurts sometimes….
This is a Favorite Re-post from April, 2010.